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Aspects of Indias Economy- No.s 59-60, Oct.


Why Is the Battle for Chinas Past Relevant to Us Today?

Mobo Gao
The Battle for Chinas Past
Since the 1990s, mainstream media and mainstream scholarship both within and outside China
tend to portray contemporary China in terms of the so-called open up and reform in the postMao period. In their propaganda, the post-Mao Chinese economic miracle, inspired by Deng
Xiaopings dictum getting rich is glorious, has produced double-digit growth of GDP for more
than twenty years. They talk about how Shenzhen, a fishing village, has turned into a modern
cosmopolitan city; how rice paddies on the east side of the Huangpu River, Pudong of Shanghai,
have been turned into one of the financial centres of Asia; and how China has suddenly become
the worlds second largest economy.
According to this story, what is good about China today has nothing to do the first half of the 60year history of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). In their eyes, the three decades of socialist
China were, if anything, a communist-inspired disaster, and only the subsequent open and
reform period has brought China to modernity. An example of how the socialist China of the
past is sidelined for the sake of glorifying the capitalist present is that a Harvard University
scholar and one-time US government intelligence officer, Vogel, in his monumental biography of
Deng Xiaoping, spends only thirty pages on Deng before 1979. In the section of the book
providing biographies of key people of the PRC, Mao is not even included. (Vogel, 2011)
According to this fashionable and convenient historiography, the Mao Zedong socialist period
achieved nothing economically.
Best-selling authors such as Frank Diktter and Jung Chang go even further. For them, Mao was
the worst possible mass murderer in human history: they claim millions of Chinese were killed
by Mao. Frank Diktters book Maos Great Famine was reported to have sold one hundred
thousand copies and won the 2011 Samuel Johnson non-fiction prize. It does not matter that the
cover photo of the book of a hungry boy was a photo of the 1946 famine in China. It does not
matter that Diktter not only has serious problems with his research methodology (Anthony
Garnaut 2013) but also has deliberately distorted documentary evidence (Warren Sun 2013).
Jung Changs book Mao: The Untold Story was hailed as a definitive history by media outlets
such as the Guardian and politicians such as G.W. Bush and the last Governor of Hong Kong,
Chris Patten. It was immediately translated into a dozen languages even though the book was
proved to have been manufactured on the basis of distortions of evidence (Gao 2008, Benton and
Lin 2009). In fact nothing matters so long as you can manufacture arguments against the Mao
era. The 1949 Chinese Revolution has to be denigrated, Maos anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist
legacy has to be dumped.
For those who want to defend socialist values, there is a need to fight back in this battle for
Chinas past. As I have argued, to hail Chinas economic development in the last thirty years as
not only proof of the success of Dengs reform, but also proof that the era of Mao was a
communist-inspired disaster, is dangerously misleading in four ways:

First, it deprives a probable majority of the Chinese the right to speak up. Secondly, it hides the
ugly fact that there are millions of people who are actually worse off in the post-Mao reform
years. Third, it denies the enormous achievements made during the Mao era that paved the way
for later development. Finally, it is misleading and it distracts from and precludes imagining of
alternative models of development and other possible forms of human organization. (Gao 2008, p
In what follows, I will first outline briefly the enormous achievements made by socialism in the
Mao era. Then I will offer an explanation for the relatively poor living standards in the Mao era,
which will be followed by a discussion of two important events that are vital for the assessment
of socialist China, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
The Enormous Achievements of Socialist China
Those who want to preserve the hegemonic status of capitalist values have tried very hard to
erase the facts of socialist achievements from history. For those who want to fight against this
hegemony we need to bring out the facts before the world. We have to remind the world that it
was during the Mao era that the average Chinese life expectancy rose from 38 years in 1949 to
68 years by the 1970s. During the same period, the literacy rate increased dramatically and rural
health improved dramatically, so much so that it prepared for millions and millions of skilled and
healthy workers in the post-Mao period economic expansion. The barefoot doctor health care
system invented in the Mao era was acclaimed by the United Nations as an incredible success
story. The system was successful in China for three important reasons: Firstly, it was primarily
directed at the poor people in rural China; secondly, it focused on prevention; and thirdly, it
combined Western and Chinese medicine (Chen 2004). These three strategies are significant for
developing countries, even today.
Despite all the claims to the contrary, socialist Chinas GNP grew at an average annual rate of 6.2
per cent between 1952 and 1978. Indeed, as Lin (2006) points out, the industrial sector
outperformed most other developing economies. Although rural development was not as fast as
was desired owing to the industrialization strategy that aimed at speedy accumulation of capital
from the rural sector, the quality of life by the 1970s in rural China was improved and was on
the edge of being transformed throughout county towns and villages. Though decades behind the
economically developed world, China was already on a par with middle-income countries in
human and social development (Bramall 1993, 335). Measured by social indicators such as life
expectancy, infant mortality and educational attainment, China, especially urban China, in the
Mao era had already forged way ahead of most market economies at similar income levels and
surpassed a number of countries with per capita incomes many times greater. By the late 1970s,
China stood up as a nuclear power, able to defy the bullying of capitalist superpowers, a country
that had satellite technology and became the sixth largest industrial power in the world whereas
in 1949, when the PRC was established, Chinas industrial capacity was that of tiny Belgium
(Meisner 1999).
Today China is known as the assembly factory of the world, an appropriate label because most
of the commodity products assembled in China are designed, technologically specified, and
owned by transnational companies. Some Chinese are proud of this phenomenon of everything
being made in China, while some non-Chinese feel threatened by it. But the fact is that China

has gained from this global chain of production but a pittance (in the form of wages at sweated
labour rates). Furthermore China has to bear the burden of absorbing industrial pollution for the
benefit of consumers in Western affluent societies, who not only enjoy an environment free of
industrial pollution, but also cheaper daily commodities.
In contrast, during the Mao era, the Chinese manufactured products for themselves. As a result,
despite technological sanctions against China by Western developed countries throughout the
Mao era similar to what they have been doing now to Cuba (note that China still faces sanctions
in the area of highly sensitive military technology), the Chinese made great technological
breakthroughs, ranging from military technology such as nuclear weapons and rockets to
machinery, from engineering to agriculture, from health care to education. According to one poll
survey of more than 50,000 responses, the four winning entries of modern Chinese technological
inventions, as opposed to the four traditional Chinese inventions of paper, gunpowder, compass,
and movable printing, are the hybrid rice crop, the laser type setting of Chinese characters,
artificial synthetic crystalline insulin and the compound Artemether. All the four inventions were
made during the Mao era (Tian Fu 2007).
In conclusion, socialist construction in the Mao era made great progress in economic
development and technological breakthroughs. It accumulated enough capital to build a nation
with a sound industrial basis, a strong independent country. (Note that it was China during the
Mao era that fought the technologically most sophisticated and resource-rich superpower, the
United States of America, first in Korea and then indirectly in Indochina). It developed
comprehensive agricultural infrastructure such as reservoirs, dams, dikes, roads and newly
cultivated land. Furthermore, it was the socialist policies that made it possible for China to have
a healthy and literate labour pool for the post-Mao economic development.
How to Account for the Relatively Poor Living Standard in the Era of Mao?
From the point of view of economic growth, but especially from the point of view of socioeconomic development beneficial for the majority of the poor people in China, the Mao era was
anything but a communist-inspired disaster. On the contrary it was undoubtedly a socialistinspired success. However, it is also undoubtedly the case that living standards remained poor in
most areas of China for most of the era of Mao. Do these two facts contradict each other? How to
account for the poor living standards in the era of Mao if we argue, as I am doing now, that the
Mao era made great achievements not only in national independence but also in economic and
social development?
Let me start with the prima facie evidence. In an empirical study of a village (Gao 1999) where I
was born and brought up, I have demonstrated that since the 1990s, the villagers have a much
improved material life. They dont go hungry and they are very well clothed and sheltered. By
the beginning of the 21st century, watches, televisions, smart phones, fridges are common
consumer goods in the village. Almost all the villagers have built new houses, some of which are
elaborate, decoratively modern and spacious. They wear sun-glasses, western suits, and leather
shoes and some of them even have cars. In the era of Mao most Gao villagers could not even
afford a bike. In this study I report that when I was a boy the three things I wanted most were a
pair of rubber boots (for the muddy roads), a torch (as there was no electricity in the village upto
the time I left), and a little folding knife. My family could not afford them. But as soon as I left

the village to go to university I could afford them, though then I did not need them anymore. I
also report that I did not know that I had been hungry all my life until I went to study in the UK,
where I could use oil like water and where I put on weight in a matter of weeks.
There are two standard, widely accepted and mostly taken-for-granted explanations for this
contrast between the material poverty in the era of Mao and the material improvement in postMao China. One is that Mao did not know economics, and all he cared about was personal power
and political struggle. According to this version Maos lieutenants knew better, but they were
constantly made victims of Maos personal power struggle. The other popular explanation is that
the collective system in the Mao era gave no incentive for hard work. According to this version,
the post-Mao reform liberated the Chinese from communism and privatization ensured a
subsequent Chinese economic miracle.
I will deal with the first explanation later when I talk about the Cultural Revolution. So let me
analyse why I dont agree with the second explanation, which is basically an economic
rationality narrative. In my village study I demonstrate that the villagers actually worked very
hard. They worked hard for two main reasons. Although the land and every means of production
were owned by the collective village, the villagers themselves had the sense of ownership
because every decision and outcome related to land and means of production was transparent and
accountable to the villagers. The Maoist collective system based on a natural village (usually
consisting, furthermore, of members of the same clan) means that what is ownership and what is
private is far more complex than is assumed by economic rationality. The second main reason
why the villagers worked hard is that the collective system had a mechanism that enabled the
village people to carry out two socialist principles, the principle of from each according to his
or her ability and to each according to his or her work, and the principle of looking after the
weak and poor. There was a democratic process to determine and record the contribution each
person made to the collective system every day and annually. The products were distributed
according to each persons contribution, except for rice, the staple grain in the villagers diet. In
other words, each villager was given an equal amount of grain each year, varying according to
whether he/she was a child or adult. So the socialist principle of taking care of the weak and poor
ensured that everyone had the same amount of grain to live on. At the same time the socialist
principle of to each according to his or her ability ensured that those who contributed more
would be rewarded with other produce like peanuts, cotton, or fish from the collective pond in
front of the village. Those who made more contribution might borrow cash from the accounting
centre while those who contributed less could not, and so on.
If the incentive to work was not a problem why was the production lower in the era of Mao? It is
a plain fact that there was food shortage in the era of Mao and a plain fact that almost everything
was rationed, while in post-Mao China today nothing is rationed and everything seems abundant
in the market. How to explain this if you dont buy the simple black and white economic
rationality narrative?
My explanation involves four important issues: ecological pressure, development strategy,
international environment, and technology. Let me start with the ecological pressure, again using
Gao Village as an example. Gao Village has two main economic resources for villagers to work
on: land and water. Land is to grow produce and water is used for production, but is also a source

of food such as fish. However, land could not be expanded; and if anything water as a resource
has been shrinking since there are less and less fish to be caught in the ponds and rivers as a
result of environmental pollution. At the same time the population of Gao Village doubled in the
era of Mao. And the population in urban China also doubled during the same period. In other
words, Gao villagers had to produce well over double the amount of food they used to in order to
maintain the same living standards. Therefore, it is not the case that the villagers did not work
hard to produce more food; but just that they could not yet produce enough to catch up with the
rapid growth of population, which itself was the result of longer life expectancy and lower infant
mortality (as a result of socialist policies). This mismatch between agricultural growth and
population also provides the rationale behind a brutal family planning policy in post-Mao China.
However, socialist China had another approach to addressing this question, namely, improving
agricultural productivity. (More on this later.)
Secondly, I will talk about the international environment before I talk about Chinas development
strategy, because the latter is related to the former. Just one year after PRC was established, the
Korean War broke out. That war not only exerted great burden on Chinas resources at the
expense of Chinas reconstruction, but also made Chinas security more precarious. China faced
a very hostile international environment and all Western developed countries placed capital, trade
and technological sanctions against China. China first had to rely on the Soviet Union for
technological assistance. But since the later 1950s China and the Soviet Union became hostile to
each other.
In those circumstances the most rational development strategy included two aspects. One was to
develop industry rapidly, especially heavy industry, and within that national defence technology,
so that China could be ready to face urgent security threats. The other aspect was to be selfreliant, since there were no external sources in terms of either capital or technology.
This is related to the third issue, the issue of development strategy. We have to remember that
China went through an eight-year period of fighting against the brutal Japanese aggression and
invasion of China, involving the death of millions and very widespread devastation. Soon after
the Japanese surrender in 1945, China had to undergo another three years of civil war between
the Communist and the Nationalists, involving millions of troops. By the time the Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) took power in 1949, China was virtually in ruins. China could not even
produce simple commodities such as matches. One can imagine the difficulty of building up a
strong country at great speed in such a situation. The development strategy adopted was that
capital would be accumulated from the only available source, the rural sector. In order to
maintain low wages for urban workers (again for the sake of accumulating capital), the Chinese
government provided a whole range of welfare measures for the urban residents including free
housing, free education, free health care, full employment, retirement pension, and an ensured
supply of food and clothing at guaranteed stable and low prices. On the other hand, the rural
people, who produced food, could keep only a rationed quantity, and the rest of their produce had
to be handed over to the State at the government fixed prices. In order to make the whole system
work, the household registration (hukou)system was introduced so that migration was strictly
under control.

By the time US President Nixon visited China in 1972, the international environment had
changed dramatically in favour of China. Nixon, an arch-enemy of Communism, went to China
to meet Mao, not to save China but to save himself and the US. He and his Secretary of State
Kissinger wanted to have a better relationship with China for two main reasons. One is that they
wanted to get out of the quagmire of the Vietnam War, and they needed the help of China to do
that. They also perceived the Soviet Union as the main threat to their interests, and they wanted
to play the China card against the Soviets. Not surprisingly, it was during this period (in October
1971) that the UN expelled Taiwan and accepted PRC as the representative of China, and that a
number of countries which used to be hostile to China in the Cold War, including Japan and
Australia, established diplomatic relations with China.
It was in this relaxed international environment for China that two developments led to the
consumer commodities boom in China. The first development was that China felt less threatened
and therefore was able to shift from investing a high percentage of precious capital on heavy
industry to investing in light industry. It was at this juncture that many factories involved in the
military industry started to use their resources and technology to produce civilian commodities,
such as motorbikes and even electric fans. This provided the opportunity to abolish the rationing
of many items of daily use. The second development was that capitalists from Hong Kong,
Taiwan and Japan at the start, and later from other parts of the world including the USA were
allowed to invest in China. The second development led to the employment of millions of
migrant workers from rural China who, though having to work in slave-like conditions, could
earn enough money to send home and subsidize rural residents needs of clothing, items of daily
use, and even house-building.
The final piece in the jigsaw of my explanation is technology. This again has something to do
with the work done during the era of Mao. First of all, infrastructure such as reservoirs, dams,
dikes and irrigation systems took years as well as collective efforts to complete. It was during the
Mao era that this kind of work was possible and was done. The post-Mao era started just in time
to pick up the benefit of the work done previously. Secondly, modern technology such as hybrid
rice crops and chemical fertilizer and insecticide were not widely and abundantly available
during the era of Mao, because technology for fertilizer plants was still in the process of being
developed until the 1970s. Again the post-Mao era just started in time to pick up the fruit of this
work as well. In my case study of Gao Village I also demonstrate how chemicals were rationed
during the Mao era and how abusively they are now being used to raise production. We know
that the hybrid seeding developed by scientists like Yuan Longping has made a great difference
in rice output. But very few bother to point out that the development of hybrid seeding takes
many years to fruition and scientists like Yuan Longping started working on this kind of project
in the Mao era, usually with collective efforts, and the results of these have been implemented on
a large scale during the post-Mao era.
Dispute over the Great Leap Forward
Having presented evidence of the socialist achievements of the Mao era and having offered my
explanation for the prima facie poverty in contrast to the seeming abundance in the post-Mao
China, I will deal with an issue that is arguably most damaging to the Mao legacy, the starvation
caused by the Great Leap Forward. In my case study of Gao Village I have made it clear that
though not even one person died from starvation in the village, there was obvious shortage of

food and obvious hunger. There is no doubt that there was a famine during 1959 and 1960, but
there are controversies on the origin, cause and effect of the Great Leap Forward policies. It is
generally assumed that many people would have lived longer without the famine and many
would have been born had there not been the famine. However, in what way and to what extent
Chinas population growth was affected by the Great Leap Forward is being hotly debated even
today. Chinas official population statistics published in the early 1980s seem to show that there
was a population decline in that period, instead of growth on the basis of normal death and birth
rates, and that this was in the range of several to tens of millions of people.
But the Chinese official statistics are based on data collected on household registration. There
can be errors and fraud in household registration during the period for two important reasons.
First, the data could not be complete and could be erroneous because the household registration
system (hukou) was yet in the process of being established and it would take years to make it
work properly. Secondly, the Great Leap Forward policies involved huge internal migration, first
from rural to urban areas, as industrialization was expanding, and then from urban to rural areas
as industrialization was contracting in the face of shortages of grain and failure of some foolish
policies such as backyard iron and steel manufacturing. During these years households might
have failed to register when they moved back to rural areas (Sun 2014). Because the population
base of China is so huge that a tiny percentage of non-registration means large absolute numbers.
The exact death toll of the Great Leap Forward could never be established because there were no
comprehensive records. All proposed numbers are guesses based on assumptions and different
methods (Yang 2013). However, what is clear is that the more one is anti-Mao, anti-socialist
China, and anti-communist the higher the number one is likely to propose or to accept.
It is also worth remembering that in recent centuries the Chinese have been haunted by hunger
and starvation. As foreign correspondents, missionaries and travellers witnessed before the
establishment of the PRC, China was constantly devastated by natural disasters and starvation on
a large scale which sometimes claimed millions of lives. The large-scale famine which took
place during 1959 and 1960 was the first, last and only one in the whole history of the Mao era
and the whole history of the PRC. This cannot be just luck or accident. It was the result of
decades of hard work that built a solid infrastructure of irrigation and management of rivers and
lakes by massive manpower mobilized by Maos campaign as well agricultural technological
breakthroughs that are mentioned in the above text.
The Cultural Revolution
Finally, I come to the issue I mentioned a while ago, of Mao being accused of engaging in
personal power struggle at the expense of the well-being of the Chinese people. According to the
current official historiography, which is hugely supported by the dominant Chinese intelligentsia,
Mao should be held responsible for anything that was wrong or bad in the history of the PRC. On
the other hand, if anything proved to be useful and good, it must have been done by those who
did not follow Mao or acted against Mao. Is it possible to imagine a narrative the other way
around, that says that Mao was the person who actually wanted to be moderate but that those
under him went further than he wanted?

There is certainly evidence that Mao wanted the CCP to be criticized in 1957 and therefore
launched what was called the Two Hundreds (let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred
schools of thought contend). It was his colleagues in the Party who resisted Maos ideas at first,
and then wanted a harsh crackdown as soon as possible when they felt the very existence of the
Party was under the threat. There is also evidence that Mao was not the only one who
encouraged radicalism during the Great Leap Forward. For instance, Bo Yibo was the one who
made a report to Mao that China could catch up with the UK in steel production in two years. Liu
Shaoqi was the one who encouraged commune canteens, arguing that would liberate women
from the kitchen, and would be one way to eliminate gender inequality. Zhou Enlai was the one
who invented the term Great Leap. Chen Yi and Tao Zhu were the ones who believed and
advocated unrealistic figures of agricultural output.
If one reads Maos wide-ranging talks in the 1958 Wuchang and Nanning Conferences and the
1959 Shanghai Conference, one can see Mao was the person who wanted to slow down the leap
and hype. We also have to realize that the selection of what is allowed to be published, like
Maos speeches, and speeches by Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping in their collected works, is very
political. In their selected works, the speeches of Deng and Liu during the Great Leap Forward
years are not included. The politics here is obvious: to justify a dramatic change in their politics
and their return to power, the post-Mao political and intellectual elite had to manufacture the
narrative that they had been correct all the time, and it was Mao who was to blame for the past
problems. For the Western audience too, it is satisfying to nail down a villain, Mao the monster
of evil communism.
In spite of the fact that Mao and his lieutenants had fought together as convinced communists,
there were a lot of ideological and policy differences among them. Therefore, the fact that some
of Maos colleagues were ousted at one time or another should be seen as part of the normal
process of politics, rather than as a pure personal power struggle. If one is engaged in politics
one has to have a stand and view as to where China should go from one point to another.
There is a plenty of evidence of how Mao differed from Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. For
example, Mao was not happy with the education policy introduced and implemented by Liu
Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping (Li Yi 2005). According to Li, once the system was established it
favoured the educated families and disadvantaged poor families. For instance in 1957, 80 per
cent of the enrolled university students were from landlord, rich peasant and capitalist family
backgrounds. Mao of course was not happy with this and he did not have the chance to address
this until the Cultural Revolution, when one of the changes in education was that of recruiting
students from among the workers, peasants and soldiers directly via mass recommendation.
Mao was very aware that China could be easily swept along with the dominant capitalist system
in the world, and the Cultural Revolution was Maos last, bold and desperate attempt to prevent
China from moving into the trajectory of capitalism. Mao in his dying days tried to urge and to
persuade Deng Xiaoping to acknowledge in writing or to be witnessed by other colleagues to say
that he supported the Cultural Revolution, even if not the whole of it at least 70 per cent of it.
Deng was very resistant to this, although in writing Deng did pledge to Mao that he would never
reverse the verdict of the Cultural Revolution. But history proves that Deng did reverse the
verdict, as Mao said with a sigh of despair, referring to Deng Xiaoping: capitalist roader is still

walking along the capitalist road. [He] says never reverse the verdict! Not reliable. Deng did
restore capitalism in China and the socialism of Chinese characteristics steered by Deng was
more blatantly capitalist than many developed capitalist countries. No wonder some would say,
only half-jokingly, that only China could save capitalism.
The Cultural Revolution has been routinely touted as Maos personal power struggle against his
designated successor Liu Shaoqi, even though all the documentary evidence suggests otherwise.
Maos authority in the CCP and PRC was supreme, so much so that it could never be challenged
by anyone. Mao knew it and everyone else knew it. Mao could have gotten rid of Liu easily
without mobilizing a mass movement like the Cultural Revolution that was supposed to have
lasted ten years, from 1966 to 1976. In fact, as early as August 1966, when the Cultural
Revolution had just started, during the Eleventh Plenum of the Eighth Party Congress held in
Beijing, Liu was already demoted from number two position in the party to number eight. All
Mao had to do to achieve this was to have written a few lines on a piece of scrap paper called the
big poster. Many years later Lius widow, the very intelligent Wang Guangmei, who also
suffered personally during the Cultural Revolution, admitted that Mao and Liu had policy
differences, and that initially Mao did not intend to remove Liu politically. (Lius political and
even personal fate went downhill only after Mao was presented with solid evidence that Liu
was once a traitor during his days when he was an underground communist activist.)
Why did Mao launch the Cultural Revolution then? For Mao it was to decide the road to be taken
for China: was China to move along the road to socialism or would it slip into capitalism? In
1965, barely a year before the Cultural Revolution, Mao made a trip to Jinggangshan, where Mao
first started a base for guerrilla warfare. Maos symbolic visit to Jinggangshan was apparently to
contemplate another new starting point for China. On some rare occasions during the visit to
Jinggangshan, Mao talked to those around him about why he thought collectivization was crucial
to Chinese socialism (Ma 2005). This is a point on which Mao disagreed with Liu Shaoqi. It is
worth pointing out that the dismantling of the collective system in rural China was the starting
point from which the post-Mao leadership launched its so-called reform of moving away from
socialism to capitalism.
Mao knew the task of revolution against capitalism in China at that time was difficult because it
required the remoulding of mentality and world outlook. That is why the aim of the Cultural
Revolution was for the political and intelligentsia elite to go through the cultural revolution. In
May 1966, when the launch of the Cultural Revolution was in full swing, Mao called the inner
circle ideological leaders of the party, such Chen Boda, Qi Benyu and also Lin Biaos handpicked general Yang Chengwu to Shanghai to listen to what Mao thought was a concrete way to
change peoples outlook and life style. That is what was later called the May 7th Directive,
because it was a letter written by Mao on May 7th 1966 in praise of a Peoples Liberation Army
report which talked about how the soldiers and officers should together participate in not only
military training but also cultural studies and agricultural production. The directive basically
says that one should not work merely to earn money and live, but to become a revolutionary
subject. Although division of labour could not be abolished, a worker should do some farm work
and a farm should do some industrial work, a soldier should engage in production as well as
military training. A student should do all kinds of physical labour as well social activities. Party

official should sometimes live with those they lead and should engage in production work with
them, and so on (Qi 2013).
Maos idea of the Cultural Revolution was written into the document called the Sixteen Articles.
This document, which officially launched the Cultural Revolution, defines three stages of the
movement: the first stage is to engage in struggle against the authorities, the second is to criticize
capitalist ideas, and the third and final is to carry out reform (dou pi gai). All of the Chinese
should engage in struggling against established ideas and habits, and especially those who are in
leading or authoritative positions should go through the struggle session. After that, all of the
Chinese should engage in criticism criticism of others and of oneself. Finally, all the
institutions should be reformed according to the new ideas and consensus should be reached out
of the struggle and criticism stages. As it happened, the Cultural Revolution did not develop the
way Mao had envisaged.
This in a sense is understandable. Maos theory of class struggle was used skilfully by the party
leadership at various levels against the classic class enemies like landlords. However, when the
same theory was applied to them seeing them as the new class enemies, it caused much
consternation, fear and resistance. Even so nobody in the Party and the Army dared to challenge
Mao directly and personally. Instead, they tried all kinds of other means to derail the course of
the Cultural Revolution. In addition, those who tried to follow Mao either did not understand him
or acted contrary to what was aimed at by the Cultural Revolution. It is quite possible that Mao
did not have a well-thought-out plan to start with, and in many circumstances Mao was
improvising to cope with unexpected developments. Finally, there was not enough time and
effort for some of the innovative experiments and reform to come to fruition. As a result of all
those complex factors, which require more comprehensive and in depth research, the Cultural
Revolution not only failed as a whole but also caused a huge backlash from sections of the
people, which helped Deng later to reverse the verdicts.
It seems paradoxical that the political and intelligentsia elite who had been involved in making
policies and in implementing them during the era of Mao have been harsher and more critical of
socialist China, while those who bore the impact most, like the rural residents and urban workers,
have a far more positive attitude towards Mao and his legacy. According to a recent survey
carried out in December 2013, 1045 people above the age of 18 from Beijing, Shanghai,
Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xian, Changsha and Shenyang were asked whether they would agree that
Mao had more merits than demerits; 78.3 per cent agreed and 6.8 per cent strongly agreed. Some
may doubt the validity of such a survey since it was carried out by the official Chinese media
Global Times. My own research (Gao 2008) has convinced me that this percentage does reflect
the reality in China today. Another response to this finding, which is predictable, is that the
Chinese have been brain-washed and they have not been told the truth. This kind of patronizing
response not only betrays the Cold War mentality with very little understanding of what China is
like but also astonishing arrogance, as if nobody else holds the key to the truth, as if the broad
masses of the Chinese people are just millions of subhuman beings that can be easily
manipulated by a god-like hand.

For the present writer the most plausible explanation for this paradox is that the policies in the
socialist period of China benefited the majority of the lower class people, even though the
socialist achievements were made because of their hard work and sacrifice, especially the hard
work and sacrifice of the rural residents. This is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is
that the political and intelligentsia elite felt threatened, victimized and humiliated not only
because they were not allowed to enjoy the privileges which they thought they deserved (and did
enjoy at the beginning of the PRC) but also because they were forced to change and forced to
identify with the masses. Witness the frantic and ferocious grabbing of privilege and wealth by
the political and intelligentsia elite in post-Mao China.

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